Coded Bias: Education Panelist Perspective

The film Coded Bias makes an excellent contribution to a dialogue that is far too limited in education. My comments and perspectives are based on my career as a K-12 teacher and now working in teacher education in post-secondary with an interest in transforming teaching and learning. I would like to thank Shalini Kantayya and everyone involved in the film making for provoking this much needed dialogue to help guide the way forward as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve and impact all aspects of society. The film reminds us that societal biases can be encoded in algorithms unknowingly or unintentionally and can lead to algorithmic bias, a problem that may not be easily detected. The use of algorithms can lead to important decisions that affect people’s lives. As shown in the film, it’s possible for an algorithm to provide an invalid assessment of an exemplary teacher that can impact employment, retention or tenure. Similarly, invalid assessments of students can impact admissions, program advancement, assessments and decisions related to their academic conduct. What are the imperatives for education? For educators, for schools, for curricula? I would like to discuss three imperatives (I’m sure there are many more):

First, biases need to be critically examined. I often refer to the double-edged sword of innovation. With AI for example, there can be extraordinary opportunities for improvement, such as increased efficiency but there can also be significant consequences, such as the invasive surveillance shown in the film. Technology can be helpful and at the same time technology can also cause undue harm. AI can be developed for seemingly good purposes and with intent to be harmless not harmful. However, there can be insufficient attention to the biases in designs. In teaching we refer to teachers as designers of learning and recognize that each teacher has bias, each curriculum designer has bias, each curriculum has bias. The film demonstrates why it is important for designers in any field to analyze bias in their designs. Bias in designs need to be critically analyzed and questioned from multiple perspectives; bias needs to be discovered and uncovered at the very early stages in the design process. Too often designers move from prototype to testing or from draft curricula in education to pilot phases without critically examining and limiting the biases.

A second imperative is to raise the expectations and standards for ethics in designs.

In education we need transparency and accountability for algorithms that are used that have potential to impact overall advancement of individuals. There needs to be full disclosure of the algorithms and there needs to be regulations for their use. We need to question the ethics and raise the standards when using AI as the first step and first stop in making important decisions that have human impact. False positives can have a significant negative human impact.

A third imperative is to take responsibility and assume a role in protecting integrity. We all have a role and responsibility to protect the integrity of a meaningful world. In my role as an educator and scholar in education, and an academic coordinator for a graduate program called Leading and Learning in a Digital Age, I aim to design courses and conduct research and continually interrogate and critically examine implications of innovations in education. We need to advocate for, look for and consider plausible consequences when designing learning or when faced with testing or piloting any new inventions and innovation. As a society, how might we take action? How might we advance high standards of the technologies we use with learners, the technologies we develop for learning, the learning designs and the curricula used?

There were three key imperatives that resonated with me from an educational perspective as I viewed the film: there is a need to critically examine the biases; there is a need to raise the expectations and standards for ethics in designs; and there is need for all of us to take responsibility and assume a role in protecting the integrity of a meaningful world.

You may find the following related links interesting ( shared by Dr. Lisa Silver,  Faculty of Law, University of Calgary):

Federal Digital Charter: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/062.nsf/eng/h_00108.html

Law Commission of Ontario, The Rise and Fall of AI and Algorithms In American Criminal Justice: Lessons for Canada, (Toronto: October 2020)

Lisa Silver and Gideon Christian, “Harnessing the Power of AI Technology; A Commentary on the Law Commission of Ontario Report on AI and the Criminal Justice System” (November 18, 2020), online: ABlawg, http://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Blog_LS_GC_LCO_Report.pdf (commenting on the LCO Report)

Recent privacy review of Clearview AI: Joint investigation of Clearview AI, Inc. by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, and the Information Privacy Commissioner of Alberta:

https://canlii.ca/t/jd55x

Ewert v. Canada, 2018 SCC 30 (CanLII), [2018] 2 SCR 165: https://canlii.ca/t/hshjz (bias in risk assessment tools)

Multiple Reports on the issue from AI NOW Institute: https://ainowinstitute.org/reports.html.

LAWNOW Magazine – Special report on Privacy: https://canlii.ca/t/sjpm

An accessible perspective: McSweeney’s Issue 54: The End of Trust (2018)

Analysis of digital literacies in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum

 

By Barbara Brown & Michele Jacobsen

Over the past couple of weeks, Alberta educators, curriculum experts and researchers have offered a variety of responses to the March 2021 Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum [start here, here, here, and here]. One journalist gave the draft top marks, but most experts, after detailed and critical review, assign a failing grade. Dr. Carla Peck, Professor of Social Studies Education, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, completed a detailed analysis of the draft K-6 Social Studies Curriculum and calls for a complete re-write. In a future post, we will address the clear disconnect between professional practice expectations of teachers (TQS), school leaders (LQS), and superintendents (SLQS) and the draft K-6 curriculum. The professional practice standards include competencies for applying foundational knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and culture in educational professionals’ work with children, and these ideas and concepts are only superficially addressed in the draft curriculum.

 

An explosion of social media activity includes diverse commentary and sharp critiques that run counter the positive and defensive narrative from the ministry. We appreciate the detailed analysis of plagiarism in the curriculum documents provided by our colleague, Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, from the University of Calgary. The two of us (Drs. Brown and Jacobsen) have decided to weigh in on the relative lack of any meaningful role for learning technology and digital media in the draft K-6 Curriculum documents. Our initial analysis contributes a review of digital literacies and competencies, technology, coding and ethics from an educational technology perspective. The two of us hold teaching expertise and our doctorates in educational technology, conduct research in online and blended K-12 and post-secondary contexts, and have been involved in development of the Information and Communication Technology Curriculum (2000) and the Technology Policy Framework (2013) . We have both served as members of the School Technology Advisory Committee in Alberta. Alberta Education has been a world leader in the integration of technology for learning across the curriculum. The timeline of learning and technology in Alberta from 1975 to 2009 also includes various initiatives and research projects that we have both been part of and provides a foundation for our research in Alberta schools.

 

We are also involved in designing and continually updating contemporary university programs for educators, such as the Leading and Learning in a Digital Age graduate certificate that invites critical inquiry on leading learning and teaching with technology across the curriculum.

 

The following themes emerged in our analysis of close to 273 pages of draft curriculum documents including the competency progressions, literacy progressions, numeracy progressions, subject introductions and draft curriculum for ELA, Fine Arts, Mathematics, Physical Education and Wellness, Science, Social Studies, and Visual Arts. Our review does not include the French Immersion or French Language curriculum, Dance, Music or Drama. We suggest further analysis of learning technologies and digital literacy should include all of the draft curriculum documents.

 

Our initial analysis includes five key areas of concern related to digital literacies in the draft K-6 curriculum. First, we note that digital literacies and digital competencies are not part of the literacy progressions. We note that digital texts are referenced 5 times, as are vague notions of modes and media. We argue that specific reference to digital literacies and digital competencies must be included in the literacy progressions in a modern curriculum, especially if Alberta children are to learn how to navigate, evaluate and create knowledge in this post-truth era in which disinformation, appeals to emotion and fake news proliferates.

 

Second, the outcomes that include the terms technology, technologies or digital are limited in frequency throughout the curriculum, include few expectations for the early grades and are unclear with a possibility for different interpretations:

  • Words with technology appeared in 20 instances in the English Language Arts, Math and Science documents, and the term “technologies” also appeared in 20 instances but only in the Science documents.
  • In the English Language Arts K-6 draft, the first of three instances of technology appeared in grade 4. Based on our research, we are concerned about this omission in K-3 in the English Language Arts curriculum and discuss findings from one of our studies with early learners using technology here. The way the term technology and technologies are used in the draft curriculum are ambiguous. For example, in the Language arts curriculum in grade 6 – “Vocabulary is contextual and influenced by emerging or changing conditions, including technology” is vague and can be interpreted as optional.
  • In Math, the single instance of technology appeared in grade 5: “Create various representations of data, including with technology, to interpret frequency.”
  • In the Science curriculum, the term technology appeared in the introduction and started to appear minimally in grade 2. The term technologies appeared starting in grade 3. However, the terms technology and technologies appeared most frequently in the grade 5-6 outcomes. Even in the science curriculum, we noted the ambiguous use. For example, in Science Grade 6, the term technology is used as part of a list (e.g., computers, coding and technology).
  • Even though the term digital appears in over 130 instances throughout the documents, the term is mostly preceded by the term OR and can be interpreted as optional. For example, “use non-digital OR digital sources/texts” is commonly used in the English Language Arts curriculum. In contrast, a conceptual framework for emergent digital literacy from Australia used more precise language, “As we progress in the 21st century, children learn to become proficient readers and writers of both digital and non-digital texts” (Neumann, Finger & Neumann, 2017, p. 471). The Australian authors clearly emphasize the use of both digital and non-digital unlike the ambiguous wording currently used in the draft Alberta curriculum.

 

Third, we are concerned that the use of coding in the curriculum suggests that computer programming skills are sufficiently integrated in the draft K-6 curriculum. While computer science is listed in the practical skills section, coding is simplified in the learning outcomes as a mechanical process that can be done with paper/pencil. When we searched the 273 pages, the word coding only appeared in 17 learning outcomes and all of these instances were found in the Science curriculum grade 5, 6. The integration of coding is limited to learning in one disciplinary area and is absent for younger learners. Where are the “algorithms, technology and engineering to design solutions to problems” evident in the learning outcomes? These omissions in the draft curriculum stand in direct contrast to contemporary research on the importance of coding and computational thinking for all learners worldwide.  Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director (March 22, 2019), asked “Should schools teach coding?”, and presents important questions about coding and computational thinking that need to be better considered in the Alberta K-6 draft curriculum: “How can we focus learning on the “essence” of a subject rather than the ‘mechanics of the moment’? It is fair to question how working code on paper in a modern age offers any value beyond rote mechanics.

 

Fourth, we argue the curriculum should include explicit focus on ethics and technology at every age. The word ethics only appears in 3 instances and all of these were in the Science curriculum, grade 5. Here’s one of our recent books regarding the importance of ethical use of technology in digital learning environments to support our argument for increasing the curricular focus in this area. As they engage deeply in accessing and contributing knowledge a digital world, Alberta students and teachers need to be engaged in conversations and inquiry into contemporary issues such as personal privacy, access rights, copyright, surveillance, and security.

 

Fifth, there is limited and superficial reference to technology and digital competencies in this draft curriculum. We would have expected a new curriculum to build on or further develop the concepts and ideas in the Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) from 2013. The LTPF, Policy Direction 1 described the direction for technology use with students: “to support student-centred, personalized, authentic learning for all students” (p. 5) and this could have been a great starting point for developing a contemporary curriculum for Alberta’s children. Instead, this draft curriculum takes us back decades in failing to adequately consider learning technologies, digital literacy and digital competencies for Alberta children.

 

We recognize this is an initial versus comprehensive critique of the relative absence of meaningful consideration of educational technology in the draft. We anticipate and welcome more commentaries and critique to emerge over the coming days and weeks. Based on our initial analysis, we argue the ministry needs to go back to the drawing board to design a contemporary curriculum that prepares learners for their digital futures and digital economies, instead of our pasts. We also encourage everyone to get involved in the public engagement and provide feedback on the draft K-6 curriculum presented in March 2021.

 

Schleicher (2019), OECD, leaves us with this call to action: “To determine what tomorrow’s students should learn, we must assemble the best minds in a given country – leading experts in the field, but also those who understand how students learn, as well as those who have a good understanding of how knowledge and skills are used in the real world. Such knowledge sharing will allow us to more precisely determine and regularly re-examine which topics should be taught and in what sequence – without succumbing to the temptations of the moment” (P 9).

 

Some of the best minds and leading experts in their fields across Alberta, and school, classroom and university experts who understand how children learn, are analyzing, questioning and critiquing elements of this draft curriculum; will the Minister of Education listen? Or, will she continue to succumb to the ideological and political temptations of the moment?

Note: This post is also available on Dr. Michele Jacobsen’s blog

Feel free to connect with us: babrown@ucalgary.ca and dmjacobs@ucalgary.ca  OR Twitter handles: @barbbrown @dmichelej

 

Advice for parents in supporting girls’ utilization of contemporary technologies

I find there is tension between wanting kids to be adequately experienced in using contemporary technology and at the same time worrying about kids being socially disadvantaged if technologies are limited. There may also be worry about excessive use causing distraction and impacting children’s growth and well-being. Some advice columns may suggest parents access resources and become more informed.  Sites I commonly suggest include Media Smarts – http://mediasmarts.ca/ and Common Sense Media – https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

 

Advice may also include guidelines or rules for using technology.  For example, banning devices from the dinner table or requiring children hand-in their devices before bed time. Setting guidelines is important. But, what else can parents do?  I will admit that I don’t have any quick- fix tips for you.  As a researcher in this area, I also experience difficulties in this area and struggle with these tensions as well.

 

One key piece of advice beyond becoming more informed and setting guidelines, is to have conversations with your child by asking questions. Research indicates that having a strong parent-teen relationship and having regular discussions with children can reduce risky online behaviors and impact adolescent’s decisions. Depending on the age of your child, you may need to adapt the questions.  Also, don’t wait until there’s an issue to have the conversation and ask questions. Technology is continuously changing, so continuous communication is necessary with our children. Here’s some examples of questions I use:

  1. How can I best help or support you to use technology?
  2. How are you monitoring your own screen-media usage? How do the reports help you?
  3. What is your perception of gender differences at home/school/or other places in the community regarding use of technology? Do you have any examples of gender differences?
  4. How are you using technology in school? How are you using technology for consuming information or creating? How do you wish you were using technology in schools? How do you think technology could be used to help you learn?
  5. How do you perceive my actions/modeling of use of technology? Give me two stars and one wish for how I currently use technology.

 

You might find some of the responses surprise you or may not be exactly what you expected. We need generative conversations to develop a contemporary image of technology use for learning and we need to involve our girls in leading this conversation. What other questions would you suggest?

 

Should cell phones be banned from classrooms?

I was invited to respond to a school ban on cellphone use in a CTV two Alberta Primetime interview this week.

The interview was prompted by information about a Toronto middle school ban on cellphones in classrooms – http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-school-bans-cellphones-from-classrooms-1.3295140

I learned this type of interview is called a double-header interview. In this case, the interviews occurred at the same time but in different locations. I was interviewed at a studio in Calgary and the other participant and host were located in the Edmonton studio.  This meant I was in a broadcast room in Calgary looking at a camera and could not see the host or other participants during the interview.  I could only hear the audio through an earpiece.

As I prepared for the interview, I tried to think of key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here’s some of the key messages based on research that I have been involved in over many years as well as professional experiences in teaching and leading in K-12 and post-secondary environments:

  • A balanced approach is needed with a focus on learning.
  • Allowing students to use mobile devices and particularly their own mobile devices in schools requires intentional design by the teachers and school administrators.
  • There are benefits for learners of all ages. In research I have been involved in from K-12, we have observed when students are intellectually engaged, they use technology in meaningful ways. Likewise, when students are disengaged in learning, they use technology for non-educational purposes.
  • Learning can be scaffolded where learners are provided with increasing responsibility in using the tools of their day. As educators we have responsibility in designing learning opportunities that are meaningful in a digital age.  We have a responsibility to coach students when they encounter difficulties in learning. We can’t expect students will automatically know how to use technologies responsibly without providing any opportunities for learning WITH technologies in school.
  • When we ban cell phones, we are not promoting balance and we are not promoting learning for today’s students with today’s tools for learning.
  • The fear of managing situations arising from the use of cell phones often moves a school to making decisions such as completely banning these devices instead of dealing with the structural causes or other underlying causes of the misbehaviors and helping youngsters, teachers, school leaders and parents learn from the situations. Banning cell phones avoids the issues.  We can spend time patrolling to make sure the rules are followed or we can spend time designing meaning learning opportunities. Banning cell phones eliminates opportunities for learning and this includes opportunities for learning from our failures.
  • We miss critical learning opportunities both when we ban cell phones and when we allow for unguided and unlimited use. Let’s aim for a balanced approach where we make learning the focus and use the tools in meaningful and ethical ways.

 

Here’s a link to the video:

http://alberta.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1070078&binId=1.2002989&playlistPageNum=1

 

#oclmooc presentation

I was invited to share a presentation with http:http://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsoclmooc.wordpress.comhttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploads the oclmooc group this week. According to their website #oclmooc is an “open and connected learning Mooc” and a “hybrid between a course and community” aiming to:

– share ideas and best practices for learning in an open online environment

– connect with learners from Alberta (and around the globe)

– share ideas, tools and supports related to connected and open learning

– model free and open learning for everyone and anyone who wants to learn.

Since I couldn’t join for a webinar during the scheduled time for presentations, I offered to create a video presentation that could be shared with the #oclmooc community. One of the co-consipirators or volunteers involved in organizing and inspiring community members, @EHordyskiLuong kindly joined me when I recorded the video presentation.

 

Here’s the presentation I shared: